Symptoms and Signs of Smoke Inhalation

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Smoke Inhalation

The main cause of death related to fires is smoke inhalation. Smoke inhalation is breathing in the products of combustion during a fire. Smoke is composed of both heated particles and gases. Smoke inhalation may damage the body in different ways, including simple asphyxiation (lack of oxygen), chemical irritation, chemical asphyxiation, or a combination of these. Carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrogen sulfide are types of harmful chemicals produced in fires that interfere with the body’s use of oxygen and are termed chemical asphyxiants.

Signs and symptoms associated with smoke inhalation can include cough, shortness of breath, changes in mental status, hoarseness, and headache. Other signs and symptoms can include rapid breathing, black mucus production, irritation of the eyes, changes in skin color, confusion, fainting, nausea, and vomiting.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.